The 2019 FIVB World Championships were certainly a competition to remember for the Thole/Wickler tandem. It was a journey that on reflection still gives Clemens ‘goosebumps’. It was also a journey when the German crowd and the premier German team came together to defeat some of the best teams in the world on a really tough side of the draw.
"The World Championships in our home country were the biggest tournament we have played in so far. It was so special, our family and friends were there and the crowd were all cheering for us.
"I was nervous at the beginning of the World Champs, and we played Iran and the team and crowd expected us to win. We needed time to get into the tournament, but we took it as a process and tried to get better and more confident as the competition evolved. When we played Tri Bourne/Trevor Crabb, we were better and we were more solid. But after that we knew we had to beat all the best teams in the world. Alex Brouwer/Rob Meeuwsen, Alison/Alvaro Filho, Phil Dalhausser/Nick Lucena, Anders Mol/Christian Sorum and Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy, who are all big names in our sport."
The game against the Netherlands' Brouwer and Meeuwsen was certainly one of the most memorable of the World Championship, with Germany winning 2-0. Both sets were won by the narrowest of margins and in the words of Wickler, it was at this moment their confidence grew.
"After we beat Brouwer/Meeuwsen, we had a lot of confidence. The crowd pushed us to our limits and we enjoyed every moment. In the end it worked out and of course we wanted to win the final. But if I look back, I still get goosebumps and it's very cool to look back at it and watch some matches especially if I have had a bad day in training or on the court."
Wickler undoubtedly had a phenomenal competition, reading the game so well in the back-court, but also such a threat offensively with a fast and accurate arm. The atmosphere grew and grew at the Rothenbaum Arena as the competition moved into the knockout rounds. For Clemens it brought some unique and fun moments - memories that will stay with him forever.
"It was funny in the morning of the World Championship final. I was in my bed at 8.30/9am and the final was at 2pm, and it was just crazy that a friend of mine sent me a video of the massive queue outside the stadium. There was a massive number of people waiting to get into the stadium and he told the people waiting in line that he was making the video for us and everyone started cheering 'Thole/Wickler' and it was so cool to see in the morning of the final."
The final is where Germany fell just short of a gold medal and their fairy tale and their romance with the German crowd came to an end. But it was clear that the sport had another young world-class team set to challenge for titles for years to come.
“I was very excited during the match. When we walked into the stadium, the crowd were so loud and we played a good game. We were 8-7 up in the tiebreak and then Oleg Stoyanovskiy served well and shot us out. But we had our chances and the crowd celebrated our second place and that made us feel better. It was a great two weeks for us and them.”
Wickler suggests that their performance in Hamburg made him a celebrity for all of about a week, something that he is happy about as he doesn’t really want the celebrity status. The Hamburg experience did however allow him to get excited for when his home town of Munich will host the European Championships in 2022.
Ongoing studies for Wickler and Thole
Besides being one of the best players in the world, Wickler is also studying economics at a university that allows him to study from a distance. It is difficult to juggle but he understands the importance of being ready for a life after volleyball even if he doesn’t know what he wants to do after his career. It is still clear to him that volleyball is his number one priority for the time being, and that he has time on his side to play in multiple Olympic Games.
His partner Thole is also a student and is in the running for a prestigious Deutsche Sporthilfe scholarship which provides support to high-level athletes who are also students. And you can also support his candidature by visiting the organisation's website or by using the hashtag #sportstipendiat2020Julius on Instagram. More details on the voting process are available here.
Wickler says he would like to stay in sport after his career in beach volleyball. "But at the moment I just want to improve my beach volleyball and become better and better over the next few seasons. For sure I want to commit to the Paris and LA Olympic cycles and afterwards I will see what I will want to do as I will have finished my studies."
"In the winter, when we are not travelling, it gives me time to study and take some exams before the season starts. The German Championships are at the start of September in Timmendorf and after that I will try to prepare myself for my final exam at the end of September."
An unusual year and preparing for 2021
It’s been an unusual year for the beach volleyball community and for Wickler it means that he’s spent more than his usual 30 days per summer at home. Although he can see the advantages of the situation, he is looking forward to competing once again. The Olympics are his ‘big goal’ and although he may have to wait to go to his first Games, he is surrounded by Olympic champions to help him through these tough periods and prepare him for next year.
“The Olympics being postponed is tough. We were very excited to be there, but we are sure it will take place next year. I have a big goal, so it’s not like I have lost motivation. I am still motivated, I’m hungry for more and it's just postponed for one year. I am now preparing for the Olympics, so we can do everything possible to be on point at the Olympics and with Julius Brink/Jonas Reckermann and Laura Ludwig/Kira Walkenhorst we have players who have won the Olympics and we can talk to them and their coaches and use their experiences to help us when it comes to being smart and ready.”
Wickler continues to talk about the influence of Germany’s gold medal culture and says it is something that rubs off on him. Training with Ludwig means there is always something to learn from the Rio 2016 gold medallist, someone he hopes to see compete in Tokyo alongside himself and Thole.
"Brink, Reckermann, Ludwig and Walkenhorst have reached what we want to reach and have won an Olympic gold medal. So they are role models for us and sometimes we train with Laura. It's so good to train with her, she’s such a complete athlete. It's very fun to train with her too as she’s so likeable and fun. But also in training she’s very focused and does everything at 100 per cent. And it's a big influence and big advantage for us and it helps that we can ask her anything. It’s very cool and hopefully we can play the next Olympics with her and all reach for medals."
Germany are looking for their third Olympic gold medals in a row following the success of Brink/Reckermann in 2012 and Ludwig/Walkenhorst in 2016. And Wickler feels as if they have the best team in the world supporting them towards their goals. The support team certainly have to take a lot of credit for the team's quick progress.
"For sure we have had a fast way to the top 10. Two years ago we started in country quotas, qualification matches and we had to fight through all of this. And in two years we made it to the top 10/top 5 in the world, but for sure we want to keep going. We have a great team behind us, great coaches, a great psychologist, great manager, great athletic trainers. So we have a very, very good team behind us. I would say one of the best if not the best in the world. And this is a big advantage as we can learn and improve at a fast rate and I feel that we have lots of areas to improve in. I think that our athletic ability is not on the level that it is for other teams and we haven’t played as many years as others on the Tour. So there is still a lot to learn in terms of experience, but the World Championships and World Tour Finals have helped to see that we can play at this level."